Michel. Michel Vanden Eeckhoudt… He was my friend. My best friend. I can only hope I was considered by him as his best friend. I will not know. I wouldn’t have known. Because he had this incredible sense of modesty we’d only rarely talk about private issues. They were just mentioned, sort of inadvertently… We’d mostly talk about photography, ever since we followed a photography course at ‘La Cambre’, the fine arts school where we met for the first time at the end of 1968. Photography meant so much to us, included so much about life itself, that there was no real need to talk about our private lives. It was there already, inside photography.
We haven’t stopped talking about photography ever since these careless days at ‘La Cambre’. It went on at the race tracks where we’d take photographs for ‘Virage Auto’, at the darkroom a friend, Jacques Daune, had set up and where we spent hours processing and printing when we were not just fooling around, at Agence ‘VU’ which we both joined at its beginnings in 1986, and later, when our roads separated more often because the world is big and there are a lot of places to visit, a lot of stories to cover. It went on and on. Year after year. Unshakeable. Conversations to hold on to, through thick and thin.
They did not even stop the days after I took this picture of him, on December 12th. 2013, the last time I saw him, ill already. I didn’t have the guts to go and see him in February this year, didn’t want to risk seeing him diminished. I didn’t want to alter the memory I have of a person dismissing so much of what is useless, so uncompromising in his trade, so focused on the person he interacts with, so just and fair, so clear-sighted about the world around him, with opinions sharp as a knife which cuts but doesn’t make you bleed. I didn’t want to see all this constrained by illness.
Now that he is gone I continue to have these conversations with him. That’s what his photographs are there for. Thank you so much Michel.
The grenade attack of March 30th 1997 on Sam Rainsy’s Khmer Nation Party rally gathering a couple of hundred people in front of the National Assembly to denounce corruption and impunity was commemorated by the opposition CNRP at the stupa dedicated to the 16 people who died. On that day four grenades were thrown in the small crowd, injuring Sam Rainsy and over 100 demonstrators, but also children, street vendors.
Brigade 70, a special bodyguard unit trusted by Prime Minister Hun Sen, was for the first time deployed nearby, raising persistent suspicions with the opposition, and indeed by the FBI (Ron Abney, a US citizen, was seriously injured, prompting their investigation), that it wasn’t just there to monitor, as some witnesses testified the unit opened ranks to let the perpetrators escape.
Yesterday only 5 monks and 2 land rights activists showed up at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for the trial of 3 defrocked monks, including Seung Hay, accused of carrying ‘lethal weapons’ (flagpoles made of plastic). Today there were barely 50 people for the trial of 11 people, including CNRP’s Meach Sovannara and lad rights activist Pich Samnang, involved in the violent incidents which took place in November 2014 near ‘Freedom Park’.
For sure the opposition’s mojo is not in the streets anymore.
Today is ‘World water Day’. There isn’t that much of water on this planet. It is precious.
Time to revisit my story ‘Waters of Sahel’, probably my first ‘real’ story, shot between 1985 and 1987, but still relevant.
Follows is a short sample of 16. You can see the whole story HERE.
Michelle Obama is in Siem Reap. I stayed in Phnom Penh but didn’t watch ‘Cinderella’.
Desperate as they are to make their voice heard and have those women from their community, jailed for 1 year after a land issue demonstration, liberated as soon as possible, the members from the Boeung Kak and the Borei Keila communities held a protest in front of the U.S. Embassy to seek support from First Lady Michelle Obama who is scheduled to visit Cambodia on March 21st and 22nd.
I have been photographing the development of Koh Pich Island, where families providing vegetables for the city of Phnom Penh were evicted from, since 2009. Those, and photographs of other development sites in Phnom Penh where people were evicted from can be found HERE
The ‘Development Landscapes’ is also featured in ‘Quest for Land’, an application for the iPad, an in-depth report on land issues in Cambodia since 2000. It can be found on iTunes HERE.
About 500 activists and supporters held a demonstration on International Women’s Rights Day to request the release of land rights activists imprisoned following protests in late 2014. The demonstration started at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, recently relegated to the dusty outskirts of Phnom Penh, and marched to the Prey Sar prison. Two coffins loaded on a tuk-tuk preceding the marchers were confiscated for rather obscure reasons by the police.